Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 20.
The unspoken curse.

A heavy silence descended, laden with unspoken questions and swirling emotions. Finally, the Fool broke the stillness, his voice barely a whisper, "I'm sorry."

The Witch, drained from sharing her story, offered no immediate response, eyes fixed on the ground. She felt like a withered lemon, its essence squeezed dry.

"I'm sorry..." the Fool stammered, searching for the right words, "that I sparked the witch hunt with the Prince."

Surprise flickered across the Witch's face. Despite the pain caused, anger was absent. She met his gaze, inviting him to elaborate.

"I... I wanted to help the weaver's wife," he confessed, his voice laced with guilt. "But you see, it wasn't just her suffering... My mother lost her friends, my father's clients vanished, and we were ostracized. Everyone blamed me, though no one dared speak it aloud."

"I saw their fear," the Witch acknowledged, her voice low and empathetic.

The Fool swallowed hard. "I thought... if I helped the weaver's wife, they'd forgive me. Make things right."

The Witch shook her head, a hint of sadness gracing her features. "You did it for yourself, Fool. To ease your own burden, not theirs."

The Fool considered her words, their truth bitter but undeniable. "Perhaps," he admitted, voice barely above a murmur.

"You sought to mend what you believed you broke," the Witch continued, her tone gentle yet firm. "But tell me, what exactly did you break, Fool?"

Silence stretched between them, the Fool unable to answer.

"Being yourself is not a curse," the Witch declared, her voice rising with quiet strength. "You mistake isolation for condemnation. The true curse lies in believing you are defined by the whispers and shadows. You are more, Fool, much more than the name bestowed upon you."

The Fool's gaze flickered, a faint understanding dawning. All this time, he'd carried the weight of imagined blame, seeking an impossible redemption. The Witch's words, though harsh, echoed with a truth that resonated deep within him.

"It wasn't them who were cursed," the Witch proclaimed, her voice echoing in the clearing. "It was you, Fool, by believing the silence held their judgment."

The Witch's scoff echoed through the clearing. "Good graces with those who cursed you? It's an open invitation to repeat the pain, step by agonizing step!"

The Fool flinched, guilt etching lines on his youthful face. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, but the Witch cut him off.

"First lesson of curses," she declared, her voice sharp as flint. "Recognize them. Second, know your cursers. Third, break free from their hold."

The Black Fox, ever impulsive, interjected, "Where's the signup for these classes?"

The Witch considered incinerating him with a well-aimed spell, then sighed and turned away. "Learn if you must," she conceded, bitterness lacing her words. "My books await in the tower, untouched since my departure."

The Fox's eyes gleamed with excitement. "Can I turn human with them?" he blurted, bouncing on his paws.

"Another obsession with mortality?" the Witch sighed, exasperation coloring her voice. "Can't you wait for the next cycle?"

"Next cycle? I can be human then?" The Fox's joy was uncontainable. "Amazing!"

"Fine," the Witch conceded, snapping her fingers. "Practice being human with my spells. Take the whole tower, for all I care."

The Fox's grin stretched ear to ear. "A whole witch's tower?"

"All yours," the Witch confirmed, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "If you can find it."

"Where is it?" the Fox demanded, barely containing his impatience.

"Unfindable to those who seek it," the Witch intoned, a cryptic smile playing on her lips, "and unseekable to those who find it."

The dwarf, silent sentinel by the shimmering water, finally broke the hushed tension. "I'll help you, Fox," he declared, his voice firm with an unfamiliar resolve.

Confusion flickered across the Witch's face. "Leave me?" she questioned, a tremor lacing her voice.

"Not entirely," the dwarf replied, gaze fixed on the pool's reflection. "I'll... guard it for you."

The Witch nodded slowly, acceptance tinged with a strange sadness. "Very well, if that's your wish. Do join the Fox."

A bittersweet smile softened the dwarf's features as he met the Witch's eyes. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice thick with emotion. "For setting me free."

His embrace, the first the Witch had ever known, sent a ripple through her, unsettling and unfamiliar. Yet, she held him close for a moment, a flicker of warmth momentarily thawing the winter in her heart.

He pulled away, not looking back, and joined the impatient Black Fox. Together, they vanished into the night, their quest for the hidden tower drawing them ever deeper into the unknown.

"A peculiar feeling," the Witch murmured to herself, a hand instinctively going to where the warmth of the embrace lingered. "Almost... regretful."

"And why wouldn't you be?" the Fool chimed in, a knowing smile playing on his lips. He settled on the rocks by the pool, his reflection mirroring the kaleidoscope of colors dancing on the water's surface – a vibrant kaleidoscope of infinity, free and untamed.

"Remember the flower fields?" the Fool asked softly, his voice stirring a hazy memory in the Witch's mind. "That place, that rainbow..."

The Witch crept closer to the pool, drawn by a force she couldn't resist. Her gaze flickered between the water's shimmering surface and her own reflection, distorted by years of pain and bitterness. A silent question hung heavy in the air: Dare she glimpse the face buried beneath the curses?

As if in answer, the pool unveiled a startling image. Gone were the wrinkles, the sores, the graying hair. A youthful face, untouched by time, stared back, mirroring the vibrant spirit the Witch thought long lost. It was the face the Fool saw, the face still hidden within.

Tears welled up, spilling down her cheeks, a mixture of shock and longing. For the first time, she saw herself through his eyes, a stark contrast to the image she'd constructed in her isolation.

"May I take your hand?" The Fool's voice broke the stillness, soft and inviting.

A jolt of fear jolted her back to reality. "No!" she cried, recoiling as if burned. "Don't touch me! What... what is this? What curse is this?"

"I don't know," the Fool replied, his calm unsettling the Witch's rising panic. "But I trust it."

With a boldness that surprised even himself, he plunged into the pool, extending a hand towards her. "What if... what if I get what I deserve when I step into this water?" she quavered, voice barely above a whisper.

"I hope you do," the Fool declared, his gaze unwavering.

The Witch held his gaze, her own reflection staring back, a haunting echo of the woman she could be. For a terrible moment, the sorceress's cruel words echoed in her mind: "Vain, self-righteous... How wrong, how bad for others..."

But a new voice, barely audible, whispered back: "What if they were wrong? What if you deserved more?"

As the moonlight bathed the Witch in its ethereal glow, a sigh escaped her lips, laced with newfound wonder. For the first time, she savored the reflection staring back - not with vain pride, but with a quiet appreciation for the woman she truly was. It was more than physical beauty; it was a glimpse of the vibrant spirit the Fool had glimpsed all along, one buried beneath the layers of pain and isolation.

With trembling hands, she raised the cool water to her lips, the taste echoing the sweetness of hope blossoming within. As she drank, a cascade of moonlight poured down, wrapping her in its luminous embrace. The Fool watched, breath held tight, as the light danced around her, a mesmerizing spectacle hinting at something beyond mere aesthetics.

Slowly, the light dissipated, leaving a shimmering silver residue on her skin. It wasn't just her appearance that had changed; the air crackled with a subtle shift, a tangible release from the oppressive weight of the curse. Gone were the wrinkles, the scars, the outward signs of suffering.

The weight lifted,a burden carried for years.She looked in the mirror,no longer seeing the curse,but the vibrant spirit it had tried to dim.This was her,reborn,ready to face the world anew.